By Andrew Snook
Pharmaceutical packaging supplier broadens its range of services and core competencies through proactive capital investment in leading-edge packaging systems
Headquartered in London, Ont., Jones Healthcare Group has built up an impressive body of knowledge and expertise over the company’s 100-plus years of operation across the country’s health and wellness sectors.
In 2020, their centennial year, the company rebranded as Jones Healthcare Group, aligning its market focus with the company’s strong roots in healthcare and the go-forward vision centered on wellness.
The company’s four business units including Packaging Services, Cartons & Labels, Medication Adherence and Pharmacy, support a broad range of clients, serving small companies to large global organizations that specialize in prescription pharmaceuticals, over-the-counter medications, nutraceuticals, medical devices and personal care products.
The Cartons & Labels unit offers services related to cartons and labels including ideation; graphic design; structural development and prepress services; printing and converting of folding cartons and pressure-sensitive labels.
The Packaging Services unit offers a host of contract packaging services, including bottling, blistering, serialization, pouching, convenience vial filling, secondary packaging and kitting.
Importantly, the vertical integration between the Cartons & Labels and Packaging Services units allows Jones Healthcare to provide customers with turnkey packaging solutions—from initial design to commercial packaging.
In 2013, Jones Healthcare opened doors to a new state-of-the-art Packaging Services site in Brampton, Ont. Registered with both Health Canada and FDA, the 70,000-square-foot facility’s operations are dedicated to regulated packaging.
Primarily, the Packaging Services unit at the Brampton site serves the pharmaceutical market for prescription (branded and generic) and over-the-counter medicines; natural health products, personal care and wellness, self-care and medical device markets.
Chris Gilmor, director of business development, packaging services, at Jones Healthcare Group, says output at the facility is dependent on many factors but some high-level guidance numbers include: more than 750 million pouches; over 30 million bottles; over 150 million blister-packs; and more than 12 million vials.
As Gilmor explains, companies outsource their packaging to Jones Healthcare for a variety of reasons, including capacity availability, new product launches, sampling programs, and to reduce complexity of their operations.
Since building its new facility, Jones Healthcare continues to upgrade operations with new packaging technologies, including a $20-million investment in manufacturing equipment across the company over the last two years.
One of the key investments involved installation of a brand-new Uhlmann IBC 150 Monoblock Bottling Unit, manufactured by renowned German pharmaceutical packaging equipment manufacturer Uhlmann Pac-Systeme GmbH & Co. KG.
“They were looking at a machine flexible enough to handle a wide range of pharmaceutical bottles that can be run on the line,” recalls Manasvi Hegde, national sales manager for Uhlmann Packaging Systems in Towaco, N.J.
“The machine we partnered on is capable of running the entire range from 30-cc to 1,500-cc bottles on the line.”
Says Hegde: “Instead of having machines made in a conventional style, they selected our Monoblock integrated solution to provide the most flexibility, while improving efficiency by removing additional processes.”
Distributed in Canada by packaging line integration specialists Shawpak Systems of Oakville, Ont., the IBC 150 Monoblock Bottling Unit swings into action as soon as the bottles enter the bottle unscrambler, which separates, orients and air-rinses them before they are conveyed inside the machine.
The Uhlmann IBC 150 Monoblock Bottling Unit has four primary functions:
- Desiccant insertion, either pouch or canister;
- Product counting and filling, using a high-end Cremer counter to ensure the highest counting accuracy;
- Dunnage insertion with cotton or rayon (optional) to protect tablets that are friable;
- Capping, with press-on or screwed-cap designs.
“The IBC 150 offers high flexibility by handle glass or plastic bottles that are round, square or oblong,” says Gilmor, adding the system can handle “various cap styles, including press-on, CR screwfit and desiccant-in-cap.”
The high-performance system features an automated tablet lift, so the operators are able to place the bulk products into a feed hopper that’s ergonomically positioned at their height, with virtually no lifting required.
As Gilmor explains, “The tablet lift will automatically fill the elevator bucket, which then automatically rises and deposits the product into the feed hoppers directly above the product counter.
The bottles then pass through an induction sealer that seals the foil laminate heat-induction seal to the bottle, forming a barrier seal, after which the pass through a retorqurer to re-tighten the caps.
“The bottles then pass through our labeler that can apply multiple label styles—pressure-sensitive, two-ply, extended-content, a product side-sert,” Gilmor notes.
“The cartons can be packaged in standard four panel or multi-panel cartons, with up to two bottles per carton. If cartons are not required, this step can be by-passed.”
Afterwards, the bottles pass through a checkweigher and move on through a bundler, where the bottles (or cartons) can be bundled together in various configurations.
The bundled bottles are then packed into shipper cases and palletized.
“The bottle packaging line is fully compliant with the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) for serialization and aggregation,” Gilmor points out.
Another key investment at the Brampton facility involved the commissioning of a fully integrated Uhlmann two-lane blister line, featuring the Uhlmann B1440 system to perform precision forming, filling, sealing and punching of blisters at high speeds.
“The forming film is unwound from a roll at the front of the machine in which it is heated and formed into the blister with the appropriate cavity design to hold the tablets,” Gilmor explains.
The tablets are loaded into the machine with special tablet lifts that automatically transport the tablets from the operator level fill buckets to the feed hopper.
From there, the tablets flow into the SimTap feeder, which accurately places an individual tablet in each of the required blister cavities.
Once filled, the blister cavities are automatically inspected with a vision system to ensure optimal quality assurance.
The B1440 then conveys the lidding film, which has been automatically unwound from a roll inside the machine and sent through the integrated HAPA printer, and seals it to the blister.
Once sealed, the blister is perforated, if required, and then punched into the individual blisters from the film web. The filled and sealed individual blisters are then conveyed to the cartoner via Flexlink conveyor belts.
“We designed our B1440 to have an extended fill section to accommodate multiple SimTap feeders and two blister lanes,” Gilmor says.
“This allows us to place two or more different products into the same blister—i.e. day and night formulas—offering improved operational efficiency, lower production costs for our clients, and an enhanced user experience for the consumer or patient.”
Gilmor says this technology also allows for accommodating complex dosing regimens like the most recently approved COVID-19 antiviral products, for example.
“This also offers companies new ways to package products to address issues such as dosing compliance, medication adherence, user experience, brand differentiation, shelf-space considerations or new product introductions,” Gilmor explains.
After the finished blister-packs exit the B1440 machine, two Flexlink conveyor belts swiftly transfer them to the Uhlmann C2305 cartoner slots for inserting the blister-packs into folding cartons.
The high-speed Uhlmann C2305 cartoner is equipped with blister magazines in which the blisters are stacked, counted and placed in the cartoner for conveyance to the carton feeder.
The cartons that come in lay-flat format are automatically erected and placed in the cartoner to receive the blister stack.
“A pre-folded leaflet can be inserted at the same time as the blister stack as required by our customers,” says Gilmor.
“Once the blisters are in the carton, the carton is closed with tuck or glued flaps,” says Gilmor. “Then, the appropriate lot and expiry date information is printed on the carton accordingly.”
The blisters then pass through a checkweigher and are bundled into a variety of configurations with the Uhlmann ES60 bundler, after which they are packed into shipper cases and palletized.
The new blister packaging line is fully compliant with the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) for serialization and aggregation.
As Gilmor explains, one of the key ways in which Jones Healthcare differentiates itself from the competition is by being agile.
“The company is also vertically integrated,” he adds, “which is very unique in this industry.”
According to Gilmor, the company’s recent investment in Uhlmann bottling and blister packaging technologies has helped Jones Healthcare to offer increased flexibility and agility for its customers.
“We can package our customers bulk product in bottles, blisters, pouches, vials and combinations thereof to meet changing commercial demands on their end,” Gilmor states.
“This adds agility to our customers’ supply chain as they can redirect product originally designated for bottles to blisters, ensuring critical products reach patients and consumers.”
“Furthermore, we can work with customers through our cartons and labels business all the way through design to commercial packaging,” Gilmor relates.
“For example, if a pharma brand is looking to design a new package, we can work with them from project set-up, de-risking, design, prepress activity and artwork design, through to the contract filling of the final package,” Gilmor says.
The company also keeps a strong focus on addressing supply chain disruption by focusing on four main areas:
- Anticipating forecast changes to support clients’ changing markets;
- Diversifying its materials network to ensure continued supply;
- Managing capacity to respond to clients’ demand fluctuations.
Says Gilmor: “Sustainability continues to gain more and more attention in the pharmaceutical industry, something that Jones Healthcare keeps a strong focus on.
“From SFI- and FSC- certified paperboard to options containing 30 per cent PCR (post-consumer recycled) content, we provide a broad range of sustainable folding carton choices,” Gilmor says.
“We also have a portfolio of sustainable label solutions that include features such as PET wash-off, PCR constructions, and 100 per cent wood-based construction.
“These are just a few examples of our commitment to bringing sustainable solutions to our customers.”
Gilmor says the big challenge with creating more sustainable products is balancing that sustainability with functional package protection.
“The primary purpose of the package is to protect and preserve the product,” Gilmor points out. “If a new package design that meets sustainability targets fails to provide the required product protection, you’ve solved one problem to only create another.
“But the market recognizes the need for sustainable packaging solutions and it’s not going away,” says Gilmor.
“It is definitely a topic that is top-of-mind for our customers and our organization.
“We are working together with our vendors to evaluate and test new films, new foils and new bottle materials that are sustainable, in an effort to meet the intersecting needs of performance, customer experience and sustainability,” says Gilmor.
“We are also actively working with our customers to evaluate these new options in their product packages.”
Overall, Jones Healthcare is extremely pleased with their recent investments in Uhlmann technologies. Gilmor says the new bottling line and blister line have significantly increased production capacity, as well as overall efficiency.
“The Uhlmann lines have allowed us to further optimize our transition from primary to secondary packaging, allowing us to provide further flexibility and agility for our customers supply chains,” Gilmor states. “The partnership with Uhlmann has given us additional flexibility on our production floor, enabling our continued evolution.”
Gilmor says his company’s recent equipment investments certainly won’t be the last for the Brampton facility.
“We’re constantly investing in our equipment, our people and our processes,” Gilmore states. “As a contract packager, we need to be agile and respond quickly to our customers.
“Our recent partnership with Uhlmann demonstrates our joint commitment to this vision—providing valued flexibility and agility to our customers.”